Monthly Archives: January 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 31, 2021


 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 31, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

The Impeachment and Trial of a Former President (PDF)

Congressional Research Service, via Naked Capitalism 1-27-21]

Here’s the full list of Biden’s executive actions so far 

[NBC, via Naked Capitalism 1-27-21]

Strategic Political Economy

This is How You Recover From Fascism — and America’s Not Doing Any of It

Umair Haque, January 26, 2021 [Medium, via The Big Picture 1-29-21]

….Fascism always has economic roots. Always. American pundits still don’t want to discuss that, because then they’d have to admit they were wrong about the economy for decades — and they’ll never do that, because then they’ll look like the fools they are.

Think about Germany. How did “it” happens here? Because the Weimar Republic fell into poverty. The average German, expecting a stable and secure life of relative prosperity, instead experiences sudden, sharp, downward mobility. Old racial hatred suddenly resurfaces. The Jews were blamed for the travails of the average good German — they have always been the enemy within. Who else was responsible for all this poverty and despair and ruin — except the hated minorities who had always been poisoning us from the inside?

That’s exactly the story of modern day America, too. The American middle class finally began to implode around 2010, after have a century of stagnating wages, while costs like healthcare and education and food and housing exploded year after year. The average American — the white one — expected the life he or she was promised: a suburban dream of easy, thoughtless prosperity. Instead, what they got was blighted cities, an opioid epidemic, half of all Americans trapped in “low wage service jobs,” trips to the doctor that cost as much as a house. They experienced just what Weimar Germans — sudden, sharp downward mobility. They might have tried to hide it by buying McMansions on credit, but the economic facts tell the true story: the average American by 2015 or so lived in a new underclass, couldn’t raise a tiny amount to pay for an emergency, lived pay check to paycheck, and died in massive debt.

What happened? Americans, like Germans before them, were seduced by old hatreds. And these hatreds weren’t even that old: America was still an apartheid state until 1971. Americans blamed their woes on minorities — Mexicans, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, anyone not in or from the good and pure white majority. All those minorities were scapegoated as animals and vermin and terrorists and so on. The cheerleader of all this hatred was Donald Trump, who rode it all the way to the Presidency.

How do you solve this problem — that fascism has roots in economic stagnation and implosion? You solve it with a Marshall Plan…. American needs a Marshall Plan to recover from fascism. Last time, it was Europe that needed to totally rebuild. This time, it’s America. A land of decrepit, ruined…everything. Schools that look like fallout shelters, hospitals that have closed down, towns that have no transport links, whole communities that can’t access investment, entire regions without decent jobs. America needs a Marshall Plan to rebuild itself, because economic ruin is always what is at the root of fascism, and therefore, taking away the poverty that breeds and rebreeds ancient hatreds is the single truest vaccine against fascism there has ever been.

The Air Force Secretly Designed, Built, and Flew a Brand-New Fighter Jet

[Esquire, via Naked Capitalism 1-29-21]

The important news here is that USAF designed, built and flew it in just a year. I assume this is the culmination of a program begun years ago (which I read about) to advance rapid prototyping and ruthlessly minimize project development time. This is a massive disruption of world aerospace combat capabilities, because it means a constant stream of increasingly advanced aircraft are deployed, instead of one “platform” into which is poured tens of billions of dollars for “life cycle extensions.” The following articles give more background.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that most managers and directors of defense contractors are very unhappy about this, as it obstructs the potential for rent extraction from the defense procurement budget, and places a premium on the development of new science and technology, which now depreciates in value much more rapidly than under the previous rent extraction model of defense procurement.

I hope that there will be more detailed studies of this, because I suspect they will show there has been an inherent conflict between the professional military officer corps, and the defense contractors, who in the final analysis are merely pipelines of rent extraction to Wall Street. It would also tend to confirm my argument that using Veblen’s schema of producer class / industry versus predator class /  business yields better analysis than Marxist class analysis. 

The US Air Force has built and flown a mysterious full-scale prototype of its future fighter jet

[DefenseNews, September 15, 2020]

The US Air Force’s radical plan for a future fighter could field a jet in 5 years

[DefenseNews, September 16, 2019]

Why Has the Vaccine Rollout Been So Slow? Answer: Big Pharma Patent Monopolies

Dean Baker [CommonDreams 1-29-2021]

This raises the same issue as the above stories on the new USAF combat aircraft: What if medical professionals were in charge of a national vaccination program, instead of the business managers of the medical-industrial complex? 

The big problem, of course, is that going this route of open-source research and international cooperation could call into question the merits of patent monopoly financing of prescription drug research. After all, if publicly funded open-source research proved to be the best mechanism for financing the development of drugs and vaccines in a pandemic, maybe this would be the case more generally. And, no one in a position of power in American politics wanted to take this risk of a bad example….

The people who have been able to enjoy rising incomes and financial security over the last four decades ostensibly justify their better position by their greater contribution to the economy and society. But when you mess up in your job in big ways that lead to major costs to the economy and society, that claim doesn’t hold water.

We have seen a massive rise in right-wing populism where large numbers of less-educated workers reject the elites and all their claims about the world. When we have massive elite mess-ups, as we now see with vaccine distribution, and there are zero consequences for those responsible, this has to contribute to the resentment of the less advantaged.

It is appalling that we have structured the economy in such a way that the elites can be protected from consequences for even the most extreme failures. The fact so few elite types even see this as a problem (seen any columns in the NYT calling for firing?) shows that the populists have a real case. The economy is rigged against the left behind, and the people that control major news outlets, which include many self-described liberals or progressives, won’t even talk about it.

Leon Black and the American Tradition of Impunity 

Jacob Bachrach, The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism 1-27-21]

Especially pertinent if you read Umair Haque’s article near the top: recovering from fascism requires justice by holding elites accountable. 

After a year of mounting pressure from investors and outside critics, Leon Black, the billionaire chief executive of private equity giant Apollo Global Management, announced on Monday that he would step down later this year. Apparently the revelation that Black gave $158 million to deceased sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein for supposed financial advice was enough to provoke an internal revolt among Apollo’s leadership. According to The New York Times, which previously dubbed Black “the billionaire who stood by Jeffrey Epstein,” a fellow Apollo co-founder wanted Black to step down immediately. Black refused but later agreed to relinquish the CEO seat while remaining chairman of the company’s board. He set his departure date as sometime before July 31, when he turns 70. And in a typical gesture of billionaire contrition for an association he insists was honorable, he’ll donate $200 million to “women’s initiatives,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Leon Black’s not-quite fall from grace is emblematic of what passes for elite accountability in this country. Leaving on his own terms, his fortune intact, relatively untouched by legal concerns, still wielding the chairmanship of the firm he founded—things could hardly be better for a man who maintained a close financial relationship, if not more, with a convicted pedophile. He may lose a few social invitations, perhaps have his name taken off a building he donated to some nonprofit institution, but Leon Black will be just fine. He now belongs in the busy pantheon of American elites who suffered no real consequences for their alleged crimes or disturbing associations. (It goes almost unsaid that Black’s own business history as a vulture capitalist and owner of Constellis, a private military company descended from Blackwater, also deserves scrutiny that will never come.)

Suck It, Wall Street 

Matt Taibbi, January 28, 2021 [TK News]

The rally sent crushing losses at short-selling hedge funds like Melvin Capital, which was forced to close out its position at a cost of nearly $3 billion. Just like 2008, down-bettors got smashed, only this time, there were no quotes from economists celebrating the “good news” that shorts had to cover. Instead, polite society was united in its horror at the spectacle of amateur gamblers doing to hotshot finance professionals what those market pros routinely do to everyone else….  just like 2008, trading was shut down to save the hides of erstwhile high priests of “creative destruction.” Also just like 2008, there are calls for the government to investigate the people deemed responsible for unapproved market losses. 

“unapproved market losses” — Gotta love Taibbi’s facility with words

Angry Hedge Fund Billionaire Is Mad at GameStop Redditors for “Attacking Wealthy People” 

[Vanity Fair, via Naked Capitalism 1-29-21]

What Is Important About The Reddit Gamestop Short-Squeeze

Ian Welsh, January 28, 2021

And that’s what matters: not what the Redditors have done, which is 100% legal and done all the time, but the institutional response: to bail out rich people who got caught with their pants down.

The markets exist, at this point, for one reason and one reason only: to give money to rich people. It is an insider game, and if you’re on the inside you essentially can’t lose. The exceptions are very rare, the class of insiders is protected at all costs, as it was in 2008 to the tune of 20 trillion or so in the US alone (ignore the Treasury and things like TARP, the real action happens at the Fed.) Other central banks also flooded the system with money, so the end result was probably over a 100 trillion.

Since then central banks have regularly bought up assets simply by printing money. Insiders play various games, but the key is that if they win they get to keep the money; and if they lose, government steps in to make them whole. Since the game is rigged for them to make money in the first place, it’s hard to lose money, but like a gamer who knows that death isn’t real, and they can just restart, they push everything to the max.

The entire game needs to be shut down and re-booted with Glass-Steagall era controls at the very least. Hedge Funds need to be made essentially illegal, private equity needs to go away, and these people need to eat the losses when it is shut down.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-30-21]


The Political Immortality of Billionaires 

Sam Pizzigati [Consortiumnews, via Naked Capitalism 1-26-21]

...But Adelson’s $33-billion fortune will live on — and distort our nation’s political life for years to come.

How many years? We can’t, of course, see the future. But we can see how the past impacts our present. Consider, for instance, the current impactful political presence of Timothy Mellon. The 78-year-old Mellon ranks today as one of America’s biggest political donors. In the 2020 federal election cycle, he donated just over $70 million to right-wing political groupings…. Timothy Mellon bears the surname of one of America’s all-time wealthiest. His grandfather, banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon, ranked as one of the nation’s three richest men back in the 1920s.

The final legislation that Congress deposited on President Calvin Coolidge’s desk gave Mellon most everything he wanted: a cut in the top income tax rate down to 25 percent, the repeal of the gift tax and a halving of the estate tax rate. For Mellon personally, the savings would be munificent. Estimates would put his net worth, just over $80 million in 1923, as high as $600 million — over $9 billion in today’s dollars — six years later.

The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

“Read My Lips: $2,000 Now”

David Sirota, Andrew Perez, and Julia Rock, January 27, 2021 [The Daily Poster].

“Late last year, at the urging of Bernie Sanders and House progressives, Democrats were forced to break from their proclivity for complexity and issue a simple ‘read my lips’-esque promise to deliver $2,000 survival checks. Even though the proposal was itself means tested, it was still nearly universal and so straightforward that it helped Democrats win two Senate seats in Georgia, a longtime Republican stronghold. And yet, despite the fact that the $2,000 checks proposal is enormously popular, the party has almost immediately reverted back to form, slowly but surely trying to complicate the idea to the point where it’s becoming unrecognizable, complex and a proof point for those who believe Democrats refuse to just do what they promise…. On Monday, Biden declared that the once simple proposal is now ‘all a bit of a moving target in terms of the precision with which this goes,’ adding: ‘There’s legitimate reason for people to say, ‘Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X number of dollars or Y?”… The most exquisitely crafted ‘well, actually’ arguments from Washington know-it-alls, academic experts, smug pundits and emoji-wielding Twitter mobs will not save Democrats from a voter backlash if they fail to deliver on their simple promise — just like George Bush’s technocratic arguments about budgets and taxes didn’t save him from a voter backlash after he issued his simple ‘read my lips’ pledge and then violated it.”

Progressives push Biden for recurring stimulus checks 

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-29-21]

“The Democrats’ Civil War Over the Filibuster Has Barely Begun”

Eric Levitz [New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-27-21]

“[I]f the outlook for filibuster abolition looks dim, Blue America’s civil war over the issue is far from over. For the Democratic Party as an institution, the stakes of enacting major reforms over the next two years are nearly existential. And its leadership appears to understand this, even if its marginal senators do not (and/or care not for their party’s fate). The basic problem facing the Democratic Party is simple: Barring an extraordinary change to America’s political landscape, it will lose control of Congress in 2022 and have a difficult time regaining control for a decade thereafter…. To defy political gravity, and fortify U.S. democracy against the threat of authoritarian reaction, Democrats need to either rebalance the electoral playing field through the passage of structural reforms, or attain a degree of popularity that no in-power party has achieved in modern memory. If the filibuster remains in place, doing the former will be impossible and the latter highly unlikely…. [T]he Democrats’ existential interest in eroding the filibuster remains on a collision course with its moderate senators’ aversion to power. Anyone with a fondness for democracy must hope that, against all odds, the forces of partisanship will prevail.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-26-2021]


Biden Pulls Andrew Jackson’s Portrait from Oval Office

[nativenewsonline, via DailyKos 1-30-2021]

Among American Indians, Jackson is commonly referred to as the “removal president” and the “Indian-killer” because he signed the Indian Removal Act that stole millions of acres of lands from tribes that led to the forced removal from tribal ancestral lands to west of the Mississippi. The harsh removal campaign is commonly referred to as the Trail of Tears….

The Andrew Jackson portrait was replaced with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

The symbolism of the portrait swap was observed by Sault Ste. Maire Tribe Chairperson Aaron Payment, who also serves as the first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians.

“The symbolism of founder Ben Franklin is not lost on Indian Country. Recall he was one of the intellectual architects of the separation of powers ideology that his writings show originated from the Iroquois Confederacy Great Law of Peace,” Payment told Native News Online.

How to Shut Down ICE Detention in Your Community, a Detention Watch Network Guide 

[Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism 1-28-21]

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-26-21]


Forgiving Student Debt Alone Won’t Fix the Crisis 

Matt Taibbi [Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 1-26-21]

Biden faces a historic unemployment crisis 

[Vox, via The Big Picture 1-25-2021]

The week before Biden took office, 1.4 million Americans filed for unemployment.

“Crew Abandoned for 11 Months Calls for Action Staging a Hunger Strike” [Maritime Executive, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-25-21] 

“The crew of a bulk carrier abandoned by its owner and flag state is staging a hunger strike to call attention to their plight according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Desperate to get their back wages and return home the crew turned to this drastic action. The crew, which consists of Indian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Bangladeshi seafarers, has been stuck on the ship, the Ula, abandoned for the past 11 months at the port of Shuaiba, Kuwait. According to the ITF, the hunger strike began on January 7 in their effort to get off the ship and recover more than $400,000 in wages owed to them.”  (See NC here for more on the crew change crisis.)

“Chicago Teachers Union votes to defy district’s reopening plans over coronavirus concerns”

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-25-21]

“The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to defy Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) reopening plans for teachers and staff due to coronavirus concerns, the union announced on Sunday. The teachers union for the nation’s third-largest school district decided to allow all educators to conduct work remotely starting on Monday, the day that kindergarten through eighth grade staff were expected to return in person. The CTU reported that 86 percent of its 25,000 members participated in the electronic vote on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Seventy-one percent of voting members decided to deny the district’s current plan to come back to in-person learning. ‘So what does this mean?’ a CTU release read. ‘It means the overwhelming majority of you have chosen safety. CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one.'”

Restoring balance to the economy

“Inside the End of the Hunts Point Produce Market Strike Produce, pizza, and the power of a union”

[Grub Street, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-28-21].

“One of the most consistent masked faces among the essential workers during the strike was a representative for the South Bronx, Amanda Septimo, who spent her first two weeks in the Assembly providing physical and emotional support for the workers. In between bites of a sandwich that was donated by the DSA, Septimo gave me more info about reported involvement in the contract resolution by Governor Andrew Cuomo. She had asked the union leaders, ‘Tell me what I can do’ to help end this strike, and they responded with an assignment: ‘Call the governor.” Instead of informing them that she didn’t exactly have Cuomo on speed dial, she called “every single person — everyone I ever knew.’ Septimo said the union wanted Cuomo to call the market back to the bargaining table, which she said happened on Wednesday, the night of AOC’s appearance. Septimo said the two parties were back at the table on Thursday. “We wouldn’t be here without that intervention,” she clarified. (I reached out to the governor’s office to confirm this account, and to ask, if it is true, why the governor did not publicly claim credit for the mediation, but I did not receive a response.)”

“Greed in the Suites, From Walgreens to Walmart”

[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-28-21]

“At Walgreens, workers start an $10 an hour. No chain store empire employing essential workers pays less. Could Walgreens afford to pay more? Just no way, the company’s flacks would like us to believe. Walgreens was cost-cutting, the excuses go, even before the pandemic hit, announcing plans in 2019 to shut down 200 of its 9,000 local U.S. outlets. The squeeze on Walgreens workers has only deepened over the course of the pandemic. No retail giant in the United States, report Brookings analysts Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler, has given its workers less of a Covid hazard-pay bump than Walgreens, just 18 cents an hour…. Not every major corporate player has treated the pandemic as just another easy greed-grab opportunity. Workers at Costco — who start at $15 an hour, $5 an hour more than workers at Walgreens — have had an extra $2 an hour added to their hazard base rate.”

Cooperative Conversions & Employee Buyouts

For small business owners considering their next steps during the time of COVID-19, or pondering ways to preserve their business legacy as they approach retirement, cooperative conversions - selling a business to its employees - are an increasingly compelling option to retain jobs and keep small businesses in their communities. Baltimore’s nonprofit cooperative lender, The Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy, will lead you through the steps of this process, and answer questions about whether an employee buyout might be right for your business.

What Biden’s EV push could mean for jobs

[Axios, via The Big Picture 1-25-2021]

The U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world in electric vehicle adoption. Catching up will require big investments in EV production — including battery cell manufacturing and mining of raw materials — to avoid dependence on imports and foreign supply chains. 

Climate and environmental crises

“Global Ice Melt Matches Worst-Case Climate Scenario, Study Says”

[Bloomberg, Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-26-2021]

“Melting on the ice sheets has accelerated so much over the past three decades that it’s now in line with the worst-case climate warming scenarios outlined by scientists. A total of 28 trillion metric tons of ice was lost between 1994 and 2017, according to a research paper published in The Cryosphere on Monday. The research team led by the University of Leeds in the U.K. was the first to carry out a global survey of global ice loss using satellite data. ‘The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” lead author Thomas Slater said in a statement. ‘Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most.'”

Information Age Dystopia

“Bracing for Another E-book Price-Fixing Case”

[Publishers Weekly, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-27-21]

“The suit is being brought against Amazon on behalf of three named plaintiffs and a potential class of consumers who bought e-books published by the Big Five “through a retail platform that competes with Amazon at a price inflated by Amazon and its Co-conspirator Publishers’ price restraint.” The suit was filed by Seattle-based firm Hagens Berman, which filed the first e-book price-fixing lawsuit against Apple and five of the then–Big Six publishers in August 2011. And we remember how that turned out: with a federal antirust suit and claims from 33 states. The publishers ended up settling all claims for a total of $166 million in consumer credits. Apple lost at trial a year later and paid out a $450 million settlement. As to why this suit is happening now, suffice it to say that it feels like the Amazon antitrust train is getting ready to leave the station and Hagens Berman wants on. ”

The Free, Diverse Internet In America Is Coming To An End

Ian Welsh, January 27, 2021

….basically the internet now runs thru a number of major content aggregators: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc… (many of these are owned by the same few firms.) Most people go to the major sites and find their media there, and those who don’t use Google as their search engine.

These platforms are private and thus, as we are told over and over again by fools, are not subject to the first amendment, which they seem to think means “it’s not censorship.” But when almost all of the media consumption on the internet goes thru sites owned by five or so large companies, the commons are owned private firms, and all that has happened is that private firms are doing the censoring.

These content aggregators are aggressively banning outlets, and there is effectively no appeal…. This all really took off after 2016, with RussiaGate hysteria and concerns over Cambridge Analytica’s program of targeted propaganda. It is now about to enter a new phase, and sweep internet aggregators of a vast number of independent voices….

The center wants only the discourse they approve of in the media.... 

Meet the Censored: Status Coup 

Matt Taibbi, January 26, 2021 [TK News]

For independent outlets like Status Coup, these questions pose a serious problem. Because they’re dependent financially on platforms like YouTube to reach subscribers, they can’t afford to take the risk of being shut down. But how can alternative media operate if it doesn’t know exactly where the lines are? Also, how can such outlets add value when its one advantage over corporate media — flexibility, and willingness to cover topics outside the mainstream — is limited by the fear of consequences from making independent-minded editorial decisions?

How tech stocks ‘ate’ the stock market 

[Fortune / Mirror, via The Big Picture 1-26-2021]

In the past, most corporations had balance sheets full of tangible assets: land, buildings, equipment, and inventory. Now the majority of assets are intangible: patents, brand value, software, and customer data. Look at that shift from 1985 to 1995 as the Internet came online in a meaningful way. The corporate balance sheet of today looks nothing like the one from the 1970s. 

Disrupting mainstream politics

“‘Dark Money’ Helped Pave Joe Biden’s Path to the White House”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-25-21]

“President Joe Biden benefited from a record-breaking amount of donations from anonymous donors to outside groups backing him, meaning the public will never have a full accounting of who helped him win the White House. Biden’s winning campaign was backed by $145 million in so-called dark money donations, a type of fundraising Democrats have decried for years. Those fundraising streams augmented Biden’s $1.5 billion haul, in itself a record for a challenger to an incumbent president. That amount of dark money dwarfs the $28.4 million spent on behalf of his rival, former President Donald Trump. And it tops the previous record of $113 million in anonymous donations backing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012…. Overall, Democrats in this election cycle benefited from $326 million in dark money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was more than twice the $148 million that supported Republican groups. Some of the Democratic groups that relied on dark money in whole or in part spent heavily on early ads attacking Trump in critical battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The groups started spending while Biden’s relatively cash-poor campaign was struggling to raise money for the primaries.”

“In 2009, Pundits Predicted a New Progressive Era. It Never Came.”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-25-21]

“A look back at the media consensus that prevailed around this time during the very first months of the previous Democratic administration underscores the danger of making bold predictions of a new dawning era of liberalism…,, very little about the media consensus at the time of Obama’s victory, and continuing for a while following his inauguration, was actually borne out in practice. Far from bringing back vigorous activist government, the administration would forgo a large scale overhaul of the financial sector in favor of perfunctory leak-plugging that left the basic contours of Clinton era deregulation intact.”

The Dark Side

In 2 weeks after it called the election, Fox News cast doubt on the results nearly 800 times 

[Media Matters, via The Big Picture 1-24-2021]

Fox News repeatedly aided Trump’s efforts to undermine election results, laying the groundwork to cry foul if Trump lost, echoing debunked theories of fraud, pushing the idea that Democrats are trying to “steal” this from him, and arguing that Trump is justified in pursuing his claims of a rigged election. This pattern of coverage continued in the lead-up to the day of the riots.

Trump couldn’t have incited sedition without the help of Fox News 

Max Boot [Washington Post, via The Big Picture 1-24-2021]

There is a whole infrastructure of incitement that will remain intact even after Trump leaves office. Just as we do with foreign terrorist groups, so with domestic terrorists: We need to shut down the influencers who radicalize people and set them on the path toward violence and sedition.

Counter Trumpism By Ending the Conditions That Created It

Caitlin Johnstone, January 24, 2021 []

The way to stem the tide of Trumpism (or fascism, or white supremacism, or Trump cultism, or whatever term you use for what you’re worried about here) is to eliminate the conditions that created it.

Trump was only able to launch his successful faux-populist campaign in the first place by exploiting the widespread pre-existing opinion that there was a swamp that needed draining, a corrupt political system whose leadership does not promote the interests of the people.

Conspiracy theories only exist because the government often does evil things and lies about them with the help of the mass media, forcing people to just guess what’s happening behind the opaque wall of government secrecy.

People only get it in their heads that they need a trustworthy strongman to overhaul the system if the system has failed them.

Capitol riot arrests: See who's been charged across the U.S.

[USAToday, via The Big Picture 1-29-2021]

Federal prosecutors continue to charge participants in the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, adding to dozens of arrests that took place in Washington D.C. that day. Included are those arrested on charges federal prosecutors have filed since the riot, and those arrested by Capitol Police and D.C. Metro Police for entering the Capitol or for crimes related to weapons or violence.

Meet the Real Dark Money GOP Donors Who Funded Those Who Voted to Overturn the Election

[Center by Media & Democracy, via CommonDreams, January 28, 2021]

To repeat from Umair Haque’s article near the top: recovering from fascism requires justice by holding elites accountable. There is a LOT of useful information in this article. This list goes on to 124 individuals. The last ones on the list gave $500,000 each.

1. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson: $191.4 million

2. Ken Griffin: $59.8 million

3. Timothy Mellon: $50 million

4. Stephen and Christine Schwarzman: $46 million

5. Liz and Richard Uihlein: $43.4 million

6. Jeff Yass: $33.3 million

7. Reyes Family: $21.5 million

8. Ricketts Family: $18.1 million

9. Charles and Helen Schwab: $17.2 million

10. Bernard and Billi Marcus: $14.7 million


The Long New Right and the World It Made (78 page pdf)

Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld [American Political Science Association, via “Marjorie Taylor Greene’s vile new antics highlight a 50-year GOP story” The Washington Post 1-28-2021]

….traces how what we term the Long New Right fused substance, style, and strategy in service to a vision of electoral majority. An approach to politics centered on a take-no-prisoners mobilization of resentment and defined by a mercenary approach to institutions emerged in the postwar era, coalesced as a project for power in the 1970s, and took over Republican politics by the new century….

...the load star of New Right politics [is] the exploitation of grievance and status resentments—“knowing who hates who,” as Kevin Phillips had put it in 1968. Political institutions, for their part, served in this view not as means to cross-cut or tamp down underlying conflict, but as instruments of power to extend the domination, or to prevent the domination, of some groups over others.

It is important to understand that this Republican / conservative / libertarian view of political institutions is an outright rejection of the fundamental purpose of government, as defined by James Madison in The Federalist Number 10, is to regulate the clash of contending economic interests. It is thus a rejection of what the United States is supposed to be as a republic. 

Arizona GOP lawmaker introduces bill to give Legislature power to toss out election results

[NBCNews, January 28, 2021, via DailyKos 1-29-2021]

“The New National American Elite”

Michael Lind

[The Tablet, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-26-2021]

Forgive me for quoting a great slab of this article: “Progressives who equate class with money naturally fall into the mistake of thinking you can reduce class differences by sending lower-income people cash—in the form of a universal basic income, for example. Meanwhile, populists on the right tend to imagine that the United States was much more egalitarian, within the white majority itself, than it really was, whether in the 1950s or the 1850s. Both sides miss the real story of the evolution of the American class system in the last half century toward the consolidation of a national ruling class—a development which is unprecedented in U.S. history.” Hence Thomas Frank’s “airtight consensus.” More: “That’s because, from the American Revolution until the late 20th century, the American elite was divided among regional oligarchies. It is only in the last generation that these regional patriciates have been absorbed into a single, increasingly homogeneous national oligarchy, with the same accent, manners, values, and educational backgrounds from Boston to Austin and San Francisco to New York and Atlanta. This is a truly epochal development…. More and more Americans are figuring out that “wokeness” functions in the new, centralized American elite as a device to exclude working-class Americans of all races, along with backward remnants of the old regional elites. In effect, the new national oligarchy changes the codes and the passwords every six months or so, and notifies its members through the universities and the prestige media and Twitter. America’s working-class majority of all races pays far less attention than the elite to the media, and is highly unlikely to have a kid at Harvard or Yale to clue them in. And non-college-educated Americans spend very little time on Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which they are unlikely to be able to identify—which, among other things, proves the idiocy of the ‘Russiagate’ theory that Vladimir Putin brainwashed white working-class Americans into voting for Trump by memes in social media which they are the least likely American voters to see. Constantly replacing old terms with new terms known only to the oligarchs is a brilliant strategy of social exclusion. The rationale is supposed to be that this shows greater respect for particular groups. But there was no grassroots working-class movement among Black Americans demanding the use of ‘enslaved persons’ instead of ‘slaves’ and the overwhelming majority of Americans of Latin American descent—a wildly homogenizing category created by the U.S. Census Bureau—reject the weird term ‘Latinx.’ Woke speech is simply a ruling-class dialect, which must be updated frequently to keep the lower orders from breaking the code and successfully imitating their betters.” 

Australian Politics 2021-01-30 09:27:00


‘Immunological unicorn’discovered in Australia

In a high security laboratory in Sydney, where a select group of researchers go to extreme lengths to work with samples of blood and swabs containing Covid-19, virologist Stuart Turville found a unicorn.

“A beautiful, immunological unicorn,” Turville, an associate professor with the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, said.

“We found him when we were analysing samples from the Red Cross blood bank from people who have had Covid. And he had the most amazing Covid response I’ve ever seen.”

The unicorn is a 50-year-old father of three named Damian living on the NSW Central Coast who developed symptoms of Covid-19 in March. His symptoms were severe enough to take him to the hospital emergency department, but after being given oxygen he was sent home the same day. Bizarrely, when he was tested for the virus with the gold-standard PCR nasal swab, the lab kept returning a negative result for Covid-19.

“When they initially diagnosed him they couldn’t find virus in his nasopharyngeal area [the upper part of the throat behind the nose],” Turville told Guardian Australia.

“So they kept on swabbing him and swabbing him, but they couldn’t find it. He kept on saying to them, ‘Look, I’m sick, my son’s got it, I have to have it’. And it was only when they looked at his blood, his serum, they said; ‘Oh, yeah, you’ve had it. And you’ve got the most amazing immune response’.”

Most people who have Covid-19 develop a decent immune response.

“But this guy’s response is 100 to 1,000-fold that,” Turville said.

“His response is that good. To put it in context, we are eight or nine months out since he was infected. And he still ranks in the top 1% of responders, so what that means is if we could ever bottle a vaccine that could mimic his response, you’d want to do it. I would say that we’re going to see him responding just as well probably a year out, and maybe after about two years we might start to see some response decay.”

Usually, patients who show a particularly robust immune response to Covid-19 end up in an intensive care ward. In many of these severely unwell patients, the immune system overreacts in what is called a “cytokine storm”. Cytokines are proteins that can trigger an inflammatory response so aggressive that not only are virus cells attacked but cells in the blood vessels, urinary tract, organs and blood vessels are also destroyed, leading to organ failure and sometimes death. For some reason Damian’s response, though strong, did not bring on such an aggressive storm.

“That’s something we’re trying to get our head around,” Turville said.

Not only is Damian’s immune response lasting but it has not weakened much over time, offering strong ongoing protection against the virus, which is what makes him so unique. A Public Health England study found that while most people who have the virus are protected from reinfection for at least five months, some are reinfected, and even asymptomatic people can harbour high levels of the virus in their noses and mouths, and therefore risk passing it on to others.

After being told about his unicorn status, Damian offered himself up for medical research. Turville estimates that Damian has donated blood and plasma upwards of 15 times.

Hundreds of recovered Australians like Damian have now donated blood so their plasma, teeming with antibodies, can be separated out and used to make batches of serum through a collaboration between the Kirby Institute and manufacturer CSL. This serum is then given to severely unwell patients around the world to treat their disease.

“It also means that if the virus emerges again in Australia and takes off, we’re battle ready,” Turville said.

“Damian’s serum has contributed to many batches of these CSL products. Whenever we get a batch of serum that is particularly amazing, we say ‘OK, he’s in this batch’. That’s how impressive his response is.”

Some of the findings about Damian have been published in a pre-print paper about “high and elite responders,” which describes how “patients with high and robust Covid-19 responses were more likely male, hospitalised, and of older age”.

It is work like this that has researchers from the Kirby Institute’s containment lab – more scientifically referred to as a Physical Containment Level 3 (PC3) Laboratory – occupied at times until 3am in the morning. They also examine samples taken from returned travellers in hotel quarantine, growing the different variants in the lab to see how they behave. It is one of a handful of high-security labs around Australia where the virus is being studied.

Recover and revitalise education

As Australia’s 4 million school students and their educators kick off a new school year, it must be free of educational complacency for the path ahead.

It’s fitting that back to school coincides with this week’s UNESCO International Education Day —themed around ‘recovery and revitalisation of education for the covid-19 generation’.

Recovery and revitalisation are certainly worthy aims for policymakers in light of last year’s educational disruption. School closures undeniably resulted in learning losses and forced educators, policymakers, and parents to challenge existing schooling practices and priorities.

The task of recovery — in scope and scale — mustn’t be dismissed.

Last year, CIS research found that around 1.25 million students in the eastern states — over 40% of them — were likely to have fallen behind.

The plan of attack in NSW and Victoria is centred on marshalling a thousands-strong army of tutors to provide catch-up support. However, it’s expected this will assist only around one in five students — or around half those that will likely need it.

And while schools will welcome the help in remedying lost learning, to date there’s been limited quality assurance and considerable uncertainty over expectations of catch-up tutors.

The scale of learning loss is also likely to eclipse previous — relatively benign — predictions.

Late last year, the results of a pseudo-NAPLAN test found NSW students had fallen behind by months rather than weeks. This means that while schools were closed — around 7 weeks in NSW — students not only progressed more slowly, but effectively went backwards. This bodes poorly for Victoria’s status as the education state, since students were out of class for up to 18 weeks.

Among the key events of the 2021 education calendar will be May’s NAPLAN exams — results of which will paint a national picture of student progress following the pandemic.

But just as recovery will not be for the education policy faint-hearted, so too will be the challenge of revitalisation. This will largely hinge on learning key Covid lessons to better harness parental engagement and technology in schools.

In 2020, home-based learning gave many parents a closer look at, and interest in, their child’s schooling. CIS polling shows a majority now have more positive views on teachers and schools. A key task for educators this year will be to capitalise on this goodwill via more constructive engagement between school and the home.

In addition, 2020 saw educators embrace increased uptake of technology in schools — many with a view to entrenching a more permanent place for digitalising course content, collaboration, and assessment. While innovation is welcome, this will require smarter and more discerning applications than has been typical in the past.

The Covid-19 generation will need to muster all the available support this year to ensure they don’t become educational casualties of the pandemic.

If 2020 will be remembered for its educational disruption, 2021 must be equally characterised by recovery and revitalisation.

Violent parents, power-drunk principals, out-of-control students – a veteran Brisbane teacher has revealed the horrors of teaching in today’s State primary schools

Violent parents, classrooms full of students medicated for disorders, and principals who are “horrific bullies” are all in a day’s work for exhausted Queensland educators.

Children as young as six are trying to set classrooms on fire, stabbing teachers with scissors and calling them c--ts.

Many kids arrive hungry, filthy and have spent the night “cowering under their beds” as parents attack each other in drug and alcohol-fuelled rages.

Learning is further compromised by a content-heavy curriculum that kills creativity, while stressed-out teachers “live in fear” of poor NAPLAN results and power-drunk principals.

Add reduced government funding to the mix and children are falling through the cracks and turning to crime.

This scathing education report card comes from a passionate teacher of 30 years who has “seen and heard it all” in state and private primary schools across Brisbane and beyond. The married mother of two teenagers, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect her career, is speaking out because she wants to see change.

At the top of her list is improved mental health and social support in schools to help “damaged, broken little people”.

She wants education to get back to basics, and greater support and respect for the role of teachers.

“You go into teaching to make a difference but sometimes everything you do is still not enough,” she says.

“Shocking stuff goes on, it’s heartbreaking, and classrooms can be warzones.”

Her candid revelations come as Education Queensland data shows attacks on teachers have soared in the past five years. The number of suspensions for assaults with objects has increased by 29 per cent while attacks without objects are up by 50 per cent.

The pressure on teachers to meet unrealistic expectations has also been identified in recent studies as a major reason people quit the profession, particularly in the first few years.

While this veteran educator is in it for the long haul, she wants to expose the truth about teaching in today’s primary schools.

Not all state schools are created equal. What goes on in affluent inner city schools cannot be compared to what happens in outer disadvantaged areas.

In one of my grade 3 classes, half of the students were on medication for behavioural disorders or mental health problems – and six boys were so hard core, every single day.

One would lock himself in the storeroom and I’d finally coerce him into the classroom and get him into his desk and he’d reach out and punch the kid sitting beside him in the head.

I’ve had a student try to set the classroom on fire and two boys who really enjoyed getting on the roof and putting sticks in the TV antenna. There is constant noncompliance and disrespect.

These kids come from such dysfunctional families and are in constant fight or flight mode.

If you ever do meet the parents, mum’s got no teeth because the latest boyfriend’s knocked them out.

Kids are either up all night cowering under their beds, hiding from violent adults who are boozing and drugging, or their stepdad is chasing them down the road with a knife.

They come to school damaged and broken, so I try to create a positive family environment within the classroom and I tell them we need to make sure everyone is feeling welcome and safe.

We celebrate the smallest of wins, like someone going from 3/10 for spelling one week to 5/10 the next, because it’s about instilling self-confidence.

Mental health is an increasing problem.

I’ve face-timed a nine-year-old girl in a psychiatric hospital to let her know I am there for her any hour of the day or night. We need to be wrapping around our kids a lot more – there are not enough services within schools, yet kids are crying out for help and unless we deal with that first and help them with whatever is going on, we can’t make any difference to their learning.

Record almond harvest is coming despite a challenging year for agriculture

While some horticulture industries are having one of the most challenging harvests with workforce shortages and heavy tariffs, one sector continues to go from strength to strength.

Almond production is booming now with around 123,000 tonnes expected to be harvested in Australia this year — the largest on record.

With 80 per cent of the world's almond coming from California, Australian almonds are proving their place in the market. With every tonne of almonds sold in Australia, three tonnes are exported to around 50 countries.

Chief executive of Almond Board Australia, Ross Skinner, said the projected 10 per cent increase in harvest this year was due to the second wave of expansion from plantings in 2016.

"[The record harvest] is mainly based on the increased planting coming into production," Mr Skinner said.

"We've increased our planting over the past five years, and those trees are starting to mature into much larger trees and bearing much more crop."

With the harvest due to start any week now, Mr Skinner said the mechanical process of producing almonds, as well as the demand for the product at home and overseas, had meant the industry had avoided major hurdles that were currently facing other horticultural industry from COVID-19 movement restrictions.

The fallout with China that resulted in heavy tariffs on barley and wine is not something that is expected to be a concern for almonds.

"Much of the 2020 crop was pre-sold before the issue with trade relations with China emerged so we were confident that those contracts would be honoured and that has been the case," Mr Skinner said.

"All indicators show that the relationship will remain strong, and we have been fortunate that we have alternate markets if things turn sour, but at this stage, things look promising."

And as for labour shortages putting stress on industries like stone fruit, where the strain is causing some farmers to walk away altogether, the mechanics of almond process means less reliance on hands-on labour.

"We will have an extra 1,000 seasonal workers during the harvest season, and most of our producers had organised that labour already," Mr Skinner said.

"Being a highly mechanised industry means our harvest requirements aren't as high as the other horticultural industry, so we are well placed when it comes to labour."

Sales to the second biggest market, India, have increased to 38 per cent compared to last year and the Middle East and European markets are up 16 and 17 per cent, respectively.

"There's been strong growth in the export market, which is what we've needed because we've been growing more and more," Mr Skinner said.




How Different Were Neanderthals?

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were very similar. So similar, in fact, that modern human DNA contains portions of Neanderthal DNA from interbreeding, which in a sense, has allowed the otherwise extinct Neanderthal species to survive into the present day.

And yet, despite sharing 99.5% of modern human DNA, if you were to run into a time-traveling Neanderthal today, you couldn't help but notice some very large differences between them and modern humans like yourself.

We've been working on a fun project to quantify some of those differences. To do that, we've adapted the math that some models and cosmetic surgeons use to measure how close the proportions of their facial features come to matching the so-called "golden ratio" of 1.62, which, for whatever reason, is held up as an ideal standard for quantifying beauty.

How well do you think a Neanderthal man might measure up by that standard?

Wonder no more, because we've built a tool to do the math! The only thing we're missing is a representative Neanderthal man whose facial features we can measure, which may be difficult to come by because Neanderthals have been extinct for tens of thousands of years.

That's where the modern anthropological reconstructions from phyiscal Neanderthal remains comes in very handy. Speaking of which, it's time to meet Mr. N.

Mr. N, with facial dimension measurement points added

Mr. N represents the hard work of the anthopologists of the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany to reconstruct the physical features of a Neanderthal man from their remains. We've added the numbered dots to the image to provide a reference for taking the measurements indicated in the following tool, which we're going to use to compare with modern humans. If you're reading this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click here to access a working version of the tool!

Facial Proportion Data
Input Data Values
A: Top-of-Head to Chin (Point 1 to Point 2)
B: Top-of-Head to Pupil (Point 1 to Point 3)
C: Pupil to Nose-tip (Point 3 to Point 4)
D: Pupil to Lip (Point 3 to Point 5)
E: Width of Nose (Point 6 to Point 7)
F: Outside Distance between Eyes (Point 8 to Point 9)
G: Width of Head (Point 10 to Point 11)
H: Hairline to Pupil (Point 3 to Point 12)
I: Nose-tip to Chin (Point 2 to Point 4)
J: Lips to Chin (Point 2 to Point 5)
K: Length of Lips (Point 13 to Point 14)
L: Nose-tip to Lips (Point 4 to Point 5)

Facial Proportion Ratios
Calculated Ratios Values
A (Top-of-Head to Chin) to G (Width of Head)
B (Top-of-Head to Pupil) to D (Pupil to Lip)
I (Nose-tip to Chin) to J (Lips to Chin)
I (Nose-tip to Chin) to C (Pupil to Nose-tip)
E (Width of Nose) to L (Nose-tip to Lips)
F (Outside Distance between Eyes) to H (Hairline to Pupil)
K (Length of Lips) to E (Width of Nose)
Overall Average

In the tool, we've used pixels as our basic unit of measure, but you can substitute other units provided you use them consistently. If you wanted to hold a ruler up to the screen to measure in millimeters or inches, or if you simply printed a copy of Mr. N's picture or used the picture of another reconstructed Neanderthal individual to take measurements offline with your preferred measuring device, you can!

For modern humans, each of the indicated ratios should, "ideally" (we're putting it in quotes because its very arbitrary), come pretty close to the golden ratio of 1.62. As you can see from the results from our default data, Mr. N's data varies quite a lot away from the golden ratio, where the average of all seven ratios of facial parameters comes in at 1.23.

If an overall average score of 1.62 defines "perfect" modern human facial proportions for all these features, Mr. N's difference of 0.39 from this value would mean he misses the "perfect modern human" mark by 24%. And for what it's worth, while using the golden ratio to assess the 'beauty' of a modern human is a really dicey proposition, we can use it as an arbitrary reference for quantifying differences in facial features between modern humans and Neanderthals. But only if we know what range of values would apply for these ratios for all modern humans, not just the "perfect" ones.

Facial features are far from the only physical difference between Neanderthals and modern humans. We'll leave you with a short clip from a 2009 BBC documentary, in which a talented voice actor works to mimic what vocal experts believe Neanderthals would have sounded like based on the physiology of their remains. It's also one of the funniest things we've ever seen or heard that's based on the best available scientific evidence of the day.

HT: Adam Rutherford.

Australian Politics 2021-01-29 08:06:00


Mothers of Sons being launched next week

Bettina Arndt

I have some exciting news about an event coming up next week. We have all been invited to the launch of Mothers of Sons – a new initiative by mothers speaking out about the injustice experienced by their sons. I think this is a great idea and I'm delighted that I have been given all the information to share with you.

The official launch of Mothers of Sons will take place via a Facebook live event from 7.00pm AEDT on Monday 1 February 2021.

Here’s the link you use to join the event -

Please circulate this to everyone who might be interested in learning more about this new effort to fight for fair treatment for men and boys.

How it began

You may remember two years ago I made a video interviewing a young man, Dan Jones, who had spent five years fighting off false rape and violence accusations, which eventually led to his accuser, Sara Jane Parkinson, being sent to prison. Later that year Dan’s story featured on an hour-long 60 Minute TV special.

Following the program, the family was swamped with mail from families fighting similar battles, including many from mothers whose sons were in the firing line. Michelle Jones, Dan’s mother, started corresponding with some of the mothers and eventually this led to the idea of an organization using women, mothers, speaking out about what was happening to their sons.

I frequently find myself bailed up in a supermarket with a tearful older woman wanting to share her story about not seeing her grandchildren, spending her life savings to try to protect her son against false allegations of violence or sexual assault, or worrying herself sick as her son struggles against our biased legal system.

Michelle started gathering some of these mothers together and eight months later, the MOS group is ready with a sparkling new website:

This has been a huge labour of love, with many talented people contributing their skills to ensure the MOS mothers are ready to make waves.

Go to the website and you will see videos of the mothers’ extraordinary stories. Women like Michelle Jones and also:

Jo Thompson-Jones whose three-year-old granddaughter was murdered by her mother after the woman was told by a Family Court judge that she had lost custody to Jo’s son, Nathan.

Those two mothers, Jo and Michelle, are the only ones able to speak publicly about what happened to their families. In Michelle’s case the accuser is in prison, and Jo’s son’s partner was found hung in prison where she was awaiting her homicide trial.

It is very telling that the rest of the current group of mothers are afraid to go public with their stories because they fear fresh accusations from the women who are persecuting their sons. MOS has changed their names to protect their identities, but you can read their accounts of what happened or hear podcasts from mothers like these:

Erin – After the rape accusations against her 18-year-old son fell apart in court, the jury stood outside and cheered the boy when he left the courtroom.

Katrina – On the night when her sleeping son was beaten by his partner, the police treated him as the aggressor and took him outside to ‘calm down’.

Millie - Domestic violence accusations were used to obtain a permanent visa for the mother of her son’s child, setting off a series of court battles which destroyed her son’s life.

Mary - It took seven years for her son to convince the Family Court that his children were at risk from their mentally ill mother who’d threatened to kill them. But all it took was a new batch of lies for a magistrate to reverse this decision.

Read advice from the wise women

The mothers have put together their lessons learnt, hard-won advice for other families about how to deal with false domestic violence or rape allegations, handling the police, finding good lawyers, handling Family Court disputes. Have a look at their words of wisdom – vital information to help all families dealing with these issues.

Mothers can use MOS forums to connect with other mothers.

For mothers struggling to help their sons it can be a real lifeline to connect with mothers who have been through similar experiences. The MOS forums give mothers the opportunity to share experiences, gather advice and support.

How you can join this powerful new voice for change

There are many ways you can help Mothers of Sons make a difference to the lives of men and boys. Here’s how you might contribute:

More mothers needed to share their stories. If you are a mother with a son who has experienced injustice, write to MOS. The mothers have editors to help you write your story, or perhaps make a video if you are in a position to speak out openly about what has happened.

Spread the word. Promote the MOS website on social media.
Sign up for the MOS newsletter using the link at the bottom of the MOS home page.

I'm very hopeful Mothers of Sons will help change the public dialogue on injustice towards men, taking over some of the public advocacy that characterized my own career.

Via email:

Australian vaccine fears amid global supply threats

Australia’s medicines watchdog the Therapeutic Goods Administration will make its own decision on whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe for use in those aged over 65 even though German authorities have recommended against its use in this age group the Health Minster Greg Hunt said.

The head of the TGA Professor John Skerritt has indicated there is no risk to the elderly from the vaccine but the authority has yet to approve the vaccine.

The UK had no concerns about the use in this age group, Mr Hunt said.

Australia had contracts for supply of 140 million doses of different vaccines and was prepared for a range of outcomes if the AstraZeneca vaccine could not be used in the elderly, he said.

As global bickering intensifies over supply of COVID-19 vaccines Health Minister Greg Hunt has given a commitment that none of the 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produce in Melbourne will be exported overseas.

“With regards to the 50 million doses they are direct contract between the Australian Government and CSL and therefore delivery here in Australia we don’t see in any circumstances under which they wouldn’t be provided in full to Australia,” he said.

And he said Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne was contacting the World Health Organisation and European authorities to secure supply of vaccines under contract for Australia where they are being produced overseas.

Mr Hunt welcomed positive clinical trial results of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine overnight, Australia has purchased over 50 million doses of this vaccine and he said it will be supplied here in the second half of this year.

Two million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will be available to Australians from late March and vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine will commence in late February Health Minister Greg Hunt has clarified today.

Highly infectious new variants of the COVID-19 virus, particularly one from South Africa, appear to be outsmarting existing vaccines which are not as effective against them as earlier strains.

Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax have already signalled they are working on new vaccines to combat the latest variants and this could challenge Australia’s vaccine rollout.

“I’d be cautious on making judgments on existing vaccines against the variance at this point in time, that will remain a matter for the vaccine advisory committee and the medical regulator,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

There was not yet any advice that changes to Australia’s vaccine program was needed yet, Mr Hunt said.

“One of the hallmarks of our approach has been to prepare and to adapt,” he said.

Queensland going slow on new dam construction

The Green/Left hate dams and the Qld. government is a Leftist one

QUEENSLAND needs to build more critical dams to revive its economy, says Prime Minister Scott Morrison, expressing frustration at the state government dragging its heels. He has urged the state to get on with approving more job-generating projects for the regions, including Hughenden Dam and Hells Gates.

The call follows Mr Morrison's four-day blitz of the state's regions, visiting towns still fighting to recover from the lingering drought. Mr Morrison would not commit to a state employment target, with Queensland now having the highest jobless rate in the country of 7.5 per cent, saying that was up to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. But he said programs such as the JobMaker hiring credit and building infrastructure would get Queenslanders back into work.

While he praised the state for its commitment to projects such as CopperString 2.0 and Townsville Port, he told The Courier-Mail more needed to be done. "I think water infrastructure has proved very frustrating," Mr Morrison said. "Whether it's Hughenden Irrigation Scheme, or Hells Gates (dam), or any of these projects, we've gone through a lot of frustrations trying to get things like Emu Swamp and Rookwood Weir done. These things have to move more quickly that they have done. Water is critical to Queens-land's future, we do seriously want to invest in these projects, but they have to be approved by the state government."

Rookwood Weir is currently scheduled to start construction in April, despite first being promised by then-premier Peter Beattie in 2006. The federal government has committed $54m towards Hells Gates dam for a business case, and another $2m towards a feasibility study for Hughenden Irrigation Scheme, with a promise of a further $180m to go towards construction.

The Palaszczuk government announced an additional $6m for design and construction tender documents for Emu Swamp Dam in February last year, while in September it announced an expert panel would look into the Bradfield inland irrigation scheme. The Premier's office and Regional Development and Water Minister Glenn Butcher declined to comment

Courier Mail 25 Jan., 2021

Rupert Murdoch slams ‘woke’ culture in Australia Day speech

Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire mogul behind Fox News, took issue with the silencing of debate on social media, saying censorship had hobbled discourse with “awful woke orthodoxy”.

Mr Murdoch, 89, made the rare public remarks during a brief video to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Australia Day Foundation. The clip was posted online by the Herald Sun, owned by the media mogul’s News Corp.

“For those of us in media, there is a real challenge to confront,” he said. “A wave of censorship that seeks to silence conversation, to stifle debate and ultimately stop individuals and societies from realising their potential.”

[The US Capitol riot on January 6 was followed by a purging of the social-media accounts of then-President Donald Trump and others, drawing complaints of censorship. On Monday, Twitter said it would seek to police the service more vigilantly for misinformation and introduced a new feature called Birdwatch.

Fox News and other conservative outlets are under fire for fueling uncertainty about the US presidential election, which critics say contributed to the storming of the Capitol. Mr Murdoch’s own son James Murdoch has joined the outcry, telling the Financial Times that outlets “that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years”.]

In his remarks from the award ceremony, Rupert Murdoch said a “rigidly enforced conformity, aided and abetted by so-called social media, is a straitjacket on sensibility”.




Is GE Overvalued?

Our experiment using the relationship between a company's market cap and its forward year aggregate dividends is overdue for an update. When we last left off, we had narrowed in on where we expected the market cap for General Electric (NYSE: GE) would range based only on the historic relationship between GE's market cap and its aggregate dividends established in the period from 12 June 2009 through 8 December 2017. The idea being to project where GE's market cap might go if it were to slash its dividend, which it ultimately did. The following chart shows what that looks like, but updated with data through the end of 2020, with a bonus data point for where GE's market cap stood as of the end of trading on Monday, 26 January 2021.

GE Market Cap vs Forward Year Aggregate Dividends at Dividend Declaration Dates, 12 June 2009 - 11 December 2020

As modeled relationships go, that's pretty clunky. And since we have collected a lot more data points in the period since GE's 2018 dividend cut, we updated the model to include all the data from 12 June 2009 through 11 December 2020. The next chart shows what the updated model now looks like:

GE Market Cap vs Forward Year Aggregate Dividends at Dividend Declaration Dates, 12 June 2009 - 11 December 2020

We're also using some basic statistics to show the upper and lower level of what the variation in the historic data indicates is the 'typical' range in which the observations will fall. We've set those levels to be two standard deviations away from the main trend line, within which we would expect the data to fall 95% of the time, assuming the variation can be described by a normal distribution.

As of 27 January 2021, GE's market cap was just above where it was when it last declared dividends on 11 December 2020, which falls within the upper end of the expected range. Should GE's stock price rise above the indicated upper level, unless it is accompanied by the serious prospect of a dividend increase, it could indicate that the company's stock has become relatively overvalued, which would be a strong signal to sell.

So how do you read GE's announcement of its improving cash flow from 26 January 2021? Since a firm's ability to pay dividends depends both on its earnings and cash flow, the rise of GE's cash flow during 2020-Q4 marks a potential turnaround for the long-troubled company. If sustained, GE will be able to afford a dividend rise.

Is that what's going on here? Because if it isn't, the argument that shares of GE are becoming overvalued and its nearing time to sell becomes stronger if its shares are really trading within the vertical range they have since 2018.

Considering this information, if you were an investor holding shares of GE, how would you make your investment decisions?